In recent years, hybrid project management has gained significant popularity among project managers owing to competitive markets, high customer expectations, and increasingly complex projects.

Today, competitive markets require businesses to anticipate economic influences beforehand and deliver agile projects that can account for these impacts. Similarly, most clients now expect personalized and accelerated software solutions that are easy to deploy. This has led to increasing uncertainty and complexity when it comes to managing projects related to software development. According to PMI’s 2018 Pulse of the Profession survey, project uncertainty rose from 35% in 2013 to 41% in 2018.

All these factors have prompted a rapid shift from a traditional and structured project management approach to a more agile one. However, project managers have realized that both approaches have their own merits and demerits.

Let’s take a quick look at them!

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If both approaches come with their fair share of advantages and disadvantages, which is a better option to choose?

The answer must lie in employing an approach that brings together the good elements of both the afore-mentioned approaches. Enter, hybrid project management.

Hybrid project management: The best of both worlds

Also known as waterfall agile hybrid or structured agile, hybrid project management is a cross between traditional and agile project management methodologies. The Hybrid Manifesto defines this approach as follows:

“Hybrid Project Management combines formal (structured) and agile methods to create a new project management method. It employs the thoroughness of Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) with speed and lean benefits of Agile for a new project management method which is both detailed and fast.”

It is a relatively new approach that keeps the short-term focus on multiple product features or sprints whilst maintaining a long-term focus on the end result or goals of a project.

It’s true that not all projects and teams are created the same and have different requirements. A key benefit of hybrid is that it can be customized for any project. Since hybrid brings the waterfall elements from manufacturing and agile elements from software development, this methodology is compatible with industries and teams of all types and sizes. It also offers the option to reuse software code from past similar projects and finetune it to the needs of future projects, allowing more speed and flexibility.

This approach has also gained momentum among large enterprises that wish to transition towards agile for time-sensitive projects but fear the steep cultural change. Switching to hybrid project management results in relatively fewer process adjustments, allowing for a more seamless and quick transition. 

A number of project managers and Scrum masters now use a mix of various project management techniques. Lauri Bingham, the Director of Technology, PMO at T-Mobile says that she runs almost a third of her projects (valued at $100 million) on hybrid.

As reported by LiquidPlanner, more than half of the polled manufacturers for a survey indicated that they use a combination of different approaches. This survey also showed that the most satisfied manufacturers were the ones who used a mix of project management frameworks.

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The Hybrid project flow

Let’s take a look at how hybrid project management works!

A hybrid project is managed by a Project Manager who has the overall responsibility and ownership of the project and sets guidelines for the project using the waterfall model. The Project Manager appoints Scrum Masters for each sprint, who are then responsible for successfully executing each sprint. The Scrum Masters can create their own teams based on the functional and delivery requirements of the project.

The Project Manager is primarily concerned with the front-end tasks of the hybrid project flow such as setting product requirements, managing customer feedback, and defining the components of the waterfall approach. On the other hand, the Scrum Masters are in charge of the backend tasks e.g. managing backlogs, sprints, and releases.

Here’s a detailed diagram of the Hybrid project management flow to illustrate how the process works.

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Let’s discuss what each of the stages in the hybrid project flow stands for:

  • Components: These are the individual building blocks of the project derived from the product requirement document and as specified by the Project Manager. For instance, the components of a software product may be a user interface, business logic, in-app content, etc.
  • Track number (1 to n): A project can have a different number of tracks based on the different components. For example, the track for software programming can be one and in-app content development can be the other. Each track has its own backlog and sprints.
  • Backlogs: The list of tasks needed to accomplish each component of the project. Tasks for each sprint are determined from the backlog. Both the Project Manager and the Scrum Masters can modify the backlogs.
  • Sprints: The actual product development effort that lasts approximately 4 to 8 weeks. This step includes research, development, testing, and publishing or release. The outcomes of various sprints may be dependent on or independent of each other.
  • Releases: The stage where a component’s development is released. The Project manager gathers the customer feedback after the release and incorporates it into the track if needed.

Each track is assigned a team that directly reports to their respective Scrum Master on daily development efforts. The Scrum Masters also periodically report the progress of each release to the Product Manager. To be effective, hybrid project management requires continuous team collaboration

3 primary steps for implementing hybrid project management

According to the Hybrid Manifesto, there are three key phases to implementing hybrid project management in your organization, namely:

  • Planning
  • Process
  • Execution

 Let’s discuss each of these in detail!

  1. Planning

During the planning phase, the Project Manager sets a comprehensive project plan early on, whereas Scrum Masters define the details of each sprint as it progresses. The general responsibility of the planning phase lies with the Project Manager.

The planning phase is further subdivided into the following project tasks:

  • Goal setting: The Project Manager sets the overall direction of the project and the Scrum Masters define sub-goals of the sprints accordingly. They also specify the completion date of the goals.
  • Scope definition: The Project Manager and the Scrum Masters outline the tasks needed to accomplish the goals specified earlier on. This includes identification of use cases and the development of specification documents that make up the backlogs.
  • Project estimation: Both the Project Manager and the Scrum Masters have equal ownership to divide the project into tasks and estimate how long the overall project and each sprint should take.
  • Task scheduling: Based on the task completion estimates and the dependence of tasks from various tracks on each other, the Project Manager develops an overall schedule of the project.  
  • Development: Actual development of the sprints begins. The Scrum Masters now have complete ownership of the sprints from the start to the finish of each sprint.
  • Review: The Project Manager sets review expectations of each sprint and the overall project, and reviews the sprints as they progress. Making changes to the previous or upcoming sprints is the responsibility of the Scrum Masters.
  1. Process

The hybrid process phase is primarily the responsibility of the Scrum Masters. It begins after the first sprint is completed and focuses on iteration. Scrum Masters test the outcomes of each sprint, await customer feedback and make adjustments in upcoming iterations.

This step consists of the following tasks:

  • Quality control: The quality control team tests each of the releases for bugs and logical flaws and notifies the Scrum Master whether more iterations are needed.
  • Continuous improvement: Feedback from the last iteration is applied to the next iteration.
  • Risk management: Scrum Masters assess and resolve the financial risk at each iteration.
  • Project analysis: Following each iteration, the Project Manager and the Scrum Masters evaluate the validity of the project and its processes.
  • Customer feedback: The Project Manager gathers customer feedback after the release of each sprint and the Scrum Masters decide how to incorporate the feedback into the upcoming sprints.
  1. Execution

The final phase -- hybrid execution -- is the responsibility of both the Project Manager and the Scrum Masters. This stage typically deals with daily and weekly reporting, and continuous improvements during each of the iterations.

This stage includes:

  • Task execution: The project Manager uses the help of Scrum Masters to develop the backlog to be used for each sprint and the Scrum Masters perform their sprints as defined by the Project Manager. 
  • Daily status reporting: Team members give the daily status of their tasks to the respective Scrum Masters.
  • Weekly status meeting: Scrum Master of each track gives a weekly briefing on the progress of the sprint to the Project Manager.
  • Quality assurance: The quality assurance team carries out daily testing of the product code. They also conduct regression analysis of each sprint before its release.

How can you become a good hybrid project manager?

In order to successfully implement the hybrid strategy in your organization, as a project manager, you need to develop the following skills and expertise:

  • Leadership and product ownership abilities and the skill to understand and deliver according to customer expectations.
  • Knowledge of both the waterfall and agile methodologies and the ability to optimize the two as needed.
  • Exceptional team building and communication skills to engage with a diverse project team.
  • Writing and analytical capability to report and document the progress of the project to the customer.
  • IT proficiency and a dedicated IT asset management software to manage IT devices used by employees in your project teams. This helps lower operational costs, especially when you’re working on a remote project and your teams are dispersed across various locations.

Conclusion: Hybrid project management is all about optimization

The benefit of the hybrid methodology is that it gives you the freedom to finetune your project management strategy based on the nature of the project. You can optimize the structured-agile ratio to suit your needs.

If a certain project is large-scale and requires minimum financial risk, you can employ a more structured and less agile strategy. On the other hand, if your project is a low-risk, time-sensitive software development sprint, you can switch to a more flexible approach.

A hybrid approach enables you to reap the benefits of both waterfall and agile. The only thing you need to consider is how to strike the right balance between the two in order to deliver timely and large-scale projects.